Leaning in to Italy

Fresh asphalt chew marks scarred the once shiny chrome handlebar slider. The left turn signal had been pulled from its socket and was now blinking in the wrong direction. The shifter, while still functional, was forcefully contorted in to a “V” rather than its traditional “L” shape.

“Are you OK?”, I asked. She let out a sigh of frustration, pause, then a nod, and together we hoisted the BMW F800 GT to its feet. Two minutes later, I heard it crunch to the ground again.

6 Months ago she didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle. 5 months ago she signed up for a Motorcycle Photography tour around central Italy. Her friends thought she was crazy, reckless, maybe just a bit too optimistic. They were probably right, and yet their doubt simply fueled her determination.

4 months ago she got her motorcycle license, then bought her first used bike – a classic 80’s machine with shiny chrome and a low-slung seat. Her legs were a little too long for the bike, but she didn’t know any better. She was in love. She started to embark on solo rides through the quiet canyons and hills of Colorado, and felt the immediate freedom and exhiliration of piloting your own motorcycle – along with the anxiety of the inherent risks. 

Her new mentors taught her to “lean in” – a practical bit of advice, but also a poignant moto metaphor to, "Face Your Fears". 3 months later, she was on a plane to Italy – to ride.

The thick smell of oil & gasoline could not entirely mask the trepidation in the air as we inspected the rental bikes in the undergroundgarage, below the city of Roma. We would be boarding unfamiliar motorcycles, some larger and more powerful than we had ever ridden before, and launching ourselves directly in to the morning rush-hour traffic of one of the busiest cities in Europe. Romans are not known for being patient, nor particularly forgiving, drivers. The words, “Crash Course” came to mind, but I tactfully avoided using them aloud.

The riders were excitedly checking their gear and buckling their protection, adjusting mirrors and playing with buttons. but I noticed she was not smiling yet.

“Lean in”, she said quietly with a long breath – more as an affirmation to herself than a suggestion to anyone in particular.

The engines roared to life and the sweet sound of five large-bore BMWs and one Moto Guzzi, singing in unison, echoed off the garage walls. Kickstands up. The morning sun flared off our bug-free face shields as we emerged from the dark cave in to the bustling streets of Roma. 

Breaking free of the city was nerve-wracking. Max, our Italian lead rider, forewarned us to stay together and “ride aggressively” – not exactly the “ride defensively” tactic that is drilled in to us during our first safety classes back home in the states. In Roma, you lane split or you are pushed to the side. You jockey for pole position at every stop light, then launch for the lead – less your rear tire becomes a black skid mark on the front bumper of an old Fiat. Vespa riders put you to shame, passing on your left, right, front, and back. We quickly learned that if we didn’t ride aggressively, we’d be trampled by the herd. 

Within an hour we were out of the capital, and void of incident. We pulled to the side of the road – now finally starting to twist and turn its way in to the beautiful sunny hillside, and did a quick check-in. She was a bit shaky, but realized the hardest part was behind her, and let out a sigh of relief.

“That freaked me out, I’m not gonna lie”. Her voice had the slight vibrato of a nervous singer performing her first operetta. 

We consoled each other with audible deep breaths and a round of the most genuine, and deserved, high-fives. The smiles came freely now, and we were on our way.

Over the course of the following week, we carved through some of the most beautiful countryside you could imagine. We visited tiny villas, medieval castles, and ate at intimate agriturismo restaurants nestled deep in the hills. We negotiated flowing S-curved roads that swept back and forth like smooth, grey rivers. We cautiously traversed shiny cobblestone roads in ancient villages, designed long before the advent of the rubber tire and more than one horsepower. The random gravel roads we encountered became the nemesis of the new riders. U-turns on gravel, their arch-rival. Yet, each new encounter with this “ancient asphalt” (as Max began to call it) fostered an increase in confidence among the riders. They soon realized that gravel equaled adventure, and inevitably led us to another smooth road less-travelled.  

By the end of the week she had dropped her bike twice. And picked it up twice. She was not hurt, just more determined. She had ridden farther, faster, and on more challenging roads, then ever before. She had ridden before sunrise to watch its warmth illuminate a tiny village, and the perfect twisty road. She was beaming with confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This is what “leaning in” is all about and she was living it, and feeling more alive than ever.

I was privledged to witness all the riders on this trip overcome their own internal obstacles, fears, and hesitations – and to face them head on. Some worked through challenges on the motorcycle, some through personal baggage they carried for many years. They were noticeably stronger, bolder, and more confident by the end of the journey. I had not expected to see this, only to lead a motorcycle photography tour and binge on gourmet food.

Of course, I had my own fears before embarking on this journey. I was indirectly responsible for a group of riders on their first foray through some of the most challenging roads in Italy. No pressure, right?! Would the weather cooperate? Would we all have fun? Would I eat too much pasta and fall victim to a food coma while riding? Would one of us plummet off a cliff in an exploding ball of fire? Honestly, my biggest fear was that we would all come home un-changed. None the wiser, nothing to talk about. 

As fate would have it, each of us had a tremendous opportunity to exercise our Lean In. I don’t believe that true growth can really happen without welcoming that which scares you with outstretched arms. We faced these medieval dragons and fought them, coming out the other side as braver, stronger humans.

On our last day, we had to descend from the beautiful rolling hills and re-enter the pulsing heart of Roma to return the bikes. This time we’d be going right through the core of the city, through denser post-work traffic, twice the distance of the day we exited the iconic landmark. Max, normally light-hearted and joking, delivered a stern warning: “Please, stay together and ride aggressively. Do not fall behind or you will be lost.”

We zigged and zagged, dodged and weaved, and put our bad-ass faces on. She rode up front this time, positioning herself with intention, and refused to let scooter guy muscle her out of the way. She was smooth and confident, aggressive, but not reckless, and I followed with quiet admiration. She was a different rider now – with an air of authority about her. 

We worked our way back through the labyrinth of Roma to the underground garage, home of our borrowed bikes. Off the busy street and down the curving driveway we purred, tires squeaking on the concrete as we parked the tired beasts in their stalls. 

She rolled to a stop, pulled off her helmet, and with a glowing smile exclaimed, “That wasn’t so bad!" 

If you'd like info on one of our photography workshops, or a MotoPhoto tour, pop on over to KubotaImageTools.com

Digital Bootcamp deadline this Sunday

The deadline to register for our Digital Photography Bootcamp™ is Sunday night, so I wanted to drop you a quick note to see if you'd like to spend a whole week with me in Bend, OR

Digital photography bootcamp workshop

Digital Photography Bootcamp is my primary hands-on workshop that I've been running for almost 25 seasons now. It is an experience that has changed the lives and businesses of hundreds of photographers over the years. Some of the most successful photographers in the industry have started their careers at one of my Digital Bootcamps: Parker Pfister, Craig Strong (Lensbaby inventor), Joe Photo, Becker, Frances Marron, Jeffrey Woods, Byron Roe, Alycia WhiteMatthew (The Body) Kemmetmueller and many, many more (that aren't necessarily famous speakers at WPPI ;-)

Bootcamp is kept very small so that you receive all the attention you need. We cover just about everything: inspiration, marketing and branding, lighting, posing, customer service, sales, and workflow. I stay with you out at the beautiful 5 Pine Lodge, where we have private luxury cabins and I (and my assistants) can be available all day to help with anything you might be struggling with in your business. You will work hard, and you will leave exhausted – probably a little sad to go, but inspired and energized by what the future will hold.

I have received so many stories of transformation over the years from my attendees and I wish I could share them all with you. Here is one in particular that was really moving to me and she was kind enough to share it with you as well. (This is an audio file and will play in your browser when clicked)

Bootcamp happens just once a year, and we have a few spots left for the upcoming program this May 10-15th in Bend, OR. It is the only workshop of its kind (that I know of) that also offers a money-back guarantee, because we know from past experience that you'll gain far, far more value from it than you'll invest. 

Will you consider joining me? Find out more and sign up here.


Travel photography gear and gadgets

We are getting excited about an upcoming photography workshop Safari in South Africa this March (We just had one cancellation so there is a spot opened up if you are interested!). This is our second trip with our guide, Kevin Dooley, and his team there and we just had such a great time the first round that we had to do it again! I wanted to share some photo gear and travel tips with you, based on our previous experience and my overall experience traveling abroad with my camera. Oh yah, and some images too.

There must have been something REALLY interesting on the left side!

There must have been something REALLY interesting on the left side!

The biggest question, of course, is usually "What lenses do I bring!?". Kevin Dooley is a manly man and likes his giant 600mm lenses. I can't argue with some of the amazing close-up photos he gets while sitting safely within our Landcruiser. I don't own one of those behemoths, and I opt to rent a 200-400mm f4 lens. I found that to be nearly a perfect focal length for most of the distances we work at there. You will also find that you'll need something shorter as well, since we often see animals right up next to our vehicle, or elephants a few yards away! 

Between my trusty 70-200mm f2.8 and the 200-400mm f4 and an 18-200 zoom for backup, I have it all pretty much covered. I also like to bring a nice wide, like the 14-24mm for some of the amazing panoramic landscape images. If you can manage two cameras, one with your long zoom, and one with the wide, you'll be ready for anything at a moments notice.

You may even want to use a smaller mirrorless camera for the closer images since it's less obtrusive to keep around your neck at all times. I bring my Sony NEX-6 with a small variety of lenses as my second camera and it is easy to have with me at all times. In fact, on a recent trip to Machu Picchu all I carried with me was my Sony NEX-6 camera system for the light weight and I was literally stunned by the image quality when using good lenses on it! I have a wall-sized print at my office made from the Sony 50mm f1.8 lens, which is absolutely gorgeous and finely detailed. 

The newer version of my Sony NEX-6 is the Alpha 6000 and it's amazing for stills and video

The newer version of my Sony NEX-6 is the Alpha 6000 and it's amazing for stills and video

One of my favorite lenses for the Sony camera is this 50mm f1.8. It's incredibly sharp!

One of my favorite lenses for the Sony camera is this 50mm f1.8. It's incredibly sharp!

As Clare mentioned in a previous email, we all get a 10% discount at LensProToGo.com when you use coupon: LPKKAT

Some people consider using a 1.4X or 2X teleconverter with their 70-200mm, effectively making it like a 300mm or even 400mm. While this will work in a pinch, it is not the sharpest solution. If you can afford to rent a longer lens, go for it. If not, the teleconverter will still work OK and is better than not having the longer lens at all. I bring my 1.4X converter as a backup or occasionally pop it on the rented 200-400mm when I really need super tele.

The next question is tripod, monopod, or bean bags. A tripod will almost never be useful in the vehicle unless you collapse the legs together like a monopod, so why not just bring a monopod. There isn't enough space in the vehicle to setup a tripod, but a monopod is perfect. We travel in open air Landcruisers with no window ledges to speak of, so the bean bags don't really work as well as they would in a windowed vehicle. With a monopod you can easy swing your camera left or right, wherever the action happens to be. I found this great, lightweight monopod that is designed for rifles or cameras. It adjusts quickly with a squeeze of the handle and is very light and compact. The "V" shaped holder on the top can be used to just rest your lens in or you can unscrew it and use the 1/4"-20 thread to attach a small ball head with quick release. Make sure you have some sort of ball head or swivel as attaching the camera directly to the stick doesn't give you much rotational movement. There are also heavier dutier photo monopods, if you prefer something sturdier, but I like the ease and quickness of which this one adjusts up and down and it's super light weight for travel.

Here's the unit I'm using, with a link to it on Amazon: 

Primos Gen 2 Tall Monopod Trigger Stick, 33-65-Inch

Choose a small ball head with a quick release for your camera and your all set. Here's a nice sized and affordable option that includes an Arca Swiss style mounting plate, although I don't have this same model. If you have Arca Swiss sized plates for your other camera or lenses, great, if not you may consider getting an extra plate or two as well:

Smith Victor Ball head with quick release plate

Other photo accessories. If you have filters, like a polarizer, you may find good times to use that too. Have a way to download your images nightly for backup and plan to bring enough cards to cover your entire trip so you don't have to clear them if possible. That affords you an extra backup until you get home. If you must clear cards, then duplicate your main backup to another portable HD and double-check before clearing the cards. A flash unit is not really necessary on the game drives as we won't be out past dark. They do come in handy for portraits or other indoor scenes, so if you feel compelled to bring one, go for it. 

I also use a photo backpack to carry my gear. While you won't necessarily have to lug your gear around much once we get there, traveling in general with a heavy camera shoulder bag is pure hellish pain. I've owned and used several brands of camera backpacks, but my favorite camera backpack by far is this Rotation 180 Pro from MindShift Gear. They also have several versions to pick from:

MindSHIFT Gear has a deal going now if you follow this click through you get a free gift with any purchase over $50!

MindSHIFT Gear has a deal going now if you follow this click through you get a free gift with any purchase over $50!

The MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Pro

Your "tents" will have power outlets, so you can charge your devices nightly. I'd suggest bringing your own multi-plug adapter if you have many gadgets to plug in. Make sure to get one of the few that is rated for up to 220V so you can use it anywhere in the world. MOST of the cheap ones are not and I found out the hard way that they blow up if used for 220V. South Africa is 220V and the plug looks like this: 

OREI 2 in 1 USA to South Africa Adapter

If you get that adapter for the US plug to SA plug, then you can plug your power strip in to the wall with it and you don't need adapters for all your other plugs since they go in to the US plug strip. Most electronics are rated for up to 220V so you don't really need a transformer, except for hair dryers or your microwave. Just check your labels first.

Here's a power strip that handles 220V and also includes USB ports to charge your phone stuff.

Universal Power Tower 4 Outlets + 8 USB

Keep in mind that when we are out on safari drives, we cannot get out of the vehicles to photograph. Period. The only time we get out is for our designated breaks in safe areas. So keep in mind that all shooting will be done from seated in the topless Landcruisers. Every seat is a great seat so don't worry about being near "the window". Do plan to be compact and maneuverable from your seat though. If you bring a huge pack full of gear, you may have a hard time actually accessing it. There is some storage under your seat, or under your feet, or on your lap, but that's it. There aren't big trunks for extra gear so if you can't fit it under your seat or feet, don't bring it on the vehicle. You can however, bring whatever gear you want and keep extras in your room. Each day you can decide what gear you want to bring on the drive and you may try different setups on different days.

Bring a flashlight! A small, reliable light is always a great idea to have on you. When you walk to and from the main lodge from your tent each morning or evening, it may be dark and there have been "critters" known to slither across the foot path. I highly suggest keeping a small light in your pocket at all times. This is one of my personal favorites because it also doubles as a phone battery charger:

RAVPower 3rd Gen Mini 3200mAh Portable Charger & Flashlight

If you just want a serious heavy duty mini flashlight, I also have and like this one: 

Fenix E12 CREE XP-E2 130 Lumen LED flashlight

No self-respecting pseudo or bonafide MacGyverist would be caught dead without a sampling of duct tape somewhere on their person. I like to add some zip ties and plastic zip-lock bags too. The ties can also be used as makeshift hand-cuffs in case you participate in a citizens arrest somewhere. The plastic bags can protect lenses and other valuables inside a pack when it really rains hard. I've had one come in handy as a barf bag too for my son on one particularly bumpy bus ride.

Remember, when you are traveling and away from amenities, even the smallest break or mishap can ruin your day. Be prepared. It's a great idea to carry a small multi-tool as well.

Leather Style PS Multi-tool

This little tool, from Leatherman, is airline TSA compliant – so it "shouldn't" get confiscated, HOWEVER, mine did get confiscated in African airline security. They don't always play by our rules. Keep it in your checked bags and you'll be fine.

Don't forget your hat and sunscreen!